AN ADVERTISEMENT sent through the mails by Edgar D. Mitchell begins: “Eighteen years ago I had an extraordinary experience — one that shaped my life. After exploring the dry, airless surface of the moon as an Apollo astronaut, I was returning home to Earth. When I saw our fertile planet, luminous in space, I knew that our Earth and the life it bears were not mere accidents. On a deep level I experienced the intelligent, loving and harmonious nature of the universe.”
There is no reason to doubt that story. His experience is readily understood. He must have felt an enormous, overwhelming relief when the rocket which had brought him to the moon began the return journey. Had its apparatus or the center on earth from which it was controlled failed, he and his companions would soon have perished in agony on the dry, airless surface of the earth’s satellite or in the eternal night of frigid and airless outer space, and would have thus experienced the “loving nature” of a universe in which life is a mere epiphenomenon of blind, primordial forces–a universe in which the earth and the whole solar system are less than a single snowflake in a blizzard.
A brave man is not one who is so stupid or intoxicated that he cannot perceive imminent peril or estimate his chance of surviving it. A brave man is necessarily afraid, for fear is the instinct that makes all animate creatures, from ants to men, flee from perceived danger. Courage is the self-mastery that enables men to confront perils from which instinct would make them flee. And when they have survived that peril, the release of the tension of brave self-mastery produces a surge of overwhelming emotion, and a brave man will often find himself trembling in that first moment of assurance that he is safe. Anyone who has ever escaped with his life from a deadly danger knows that; and, in some circumstances, his consciousness, in that instant of almost incredulous perception that he was alive and the danger passed, may have been filled with inchoate thought that he later recognized as irrational.
In 1971, when the crew of the fourth lunar mission prepared to return home, Mr. Mitchell could reassure himself with the knowledge that the crews of the first two landings on the moon had returned safely to earth in 1968, but he also knew that in 1969 the crew of the third attempt had barely escaped with their lives when a malfunction occurred, fortunately while there was still time to abort the mission. He must have felt a great relief when the danger that he and his companions might be stranded and left to die miserably on the dead satellite or in sublunar space had passed, and the disk of the planet toward which they were returning at last doubtless seemed gloriously alive and benign, suggesting fantastic notions about a “loving universe.” What is odd is that when he was back on earth, he did not reflect how fantastic and irrational that illusion had been.
It is also odd that he should only then have perceived that our planet and the animalcules that crawl over it were not accidents — unless he was taking ‘accident’ in the sense given it by ignorant persons, who think the word means ‘without cause.’ Every accident is an event that was not predicted and anticipated because its causes were not perceived before it occurred. When two automobiles collide, that is an accident because neither driver perceived the velocity of the other and the path it would follow. An observer who saw the two vehicles approach each other, knew the velocity of each, and knew that neither driver was aware of the advance and path of the other, would have seen that the ‘accident’ would be the inevitable result of causes that were obvious to him.
This planet and the sentient creatures upon it are not accidents, because they were inevitably produced by causes and forces that have operated, and will operate, in the universe forever. It is true that the chemical reaction that produced life occurred on no other known planet (for reasons that are well known), and that the reaction has not yet been successfully reproduced in a laboratory, but that does not alter the fact that life, like the incandescence of the sun, was regularly produced by natural forces that are inherent in the very structure of the universe and work automatically and blindly, without purpose. Life would be an accident if it had been created by some spook, an impossible being imagined as living and capable of volition.
It appears that Mr. Mitchell’s failure to understand his own natural reaction in 1971 inspired him to found the Institute of Noetic (1) Sciences, for which he is now soliciting subscriptions and contributions.
To judge from the prospectus, the Institute will be largely concerned with investigation of the well-attested phenomena of psychosomatic medicine, the interaction of mental states and physiological conditions, which is still only partly understood and sometimes seems paradoxical. I remember the remark made to me by a member of the medical faculty of Johns Hopkins not long after a surgical operation cured the eminent Russian historian, Rostovtzeff, of melancholia (and also cured him of logical thought): “We have now conclusively proved that all maladies of the mind are maladies of the body, and that all maladies of the body are maladies of the mind.” That was more than a cynical quip.
Much of the difficulty in understanding the interaction arises from the dichotomy between body and mind that the Christians took from the Orphics, although they, expecting old Jesus to smash up the universe next year, neglected to take over the corollary in Orphic doctrine, metempsychosis. (2)
(2. The Christians probably imitated some of the mystery cults that had been derived from Orphism or the revived Orphism of the Second Century, rather than the original Orphism of the sixth century B.C., which so strongly influenced Pindar and Plato. Whence the Orphics derived their theogony and theology is not known, and it would be bootless to list the various speculations. I shall not attempt to guess whether the Orphic doctrines were, like those of the Vedas, indigenously Aryan or, as the great authority of Professor Hans Gunther maintains, incorporated much that was alien to the Aryan spirit. However that may be, as I have often remarked, the Orphism of Pindar, embellished by the genius of a great poet, makes Christianity seem insufferable tawdry and vulgar.)
The psychosomatic problem would be clearer if we eschewed superstitious fancies and followed the sound Aristotelian definition of the soul as simply the vitality that stimulated and coordinated the organs of a living thing. The soul of a plant or tree is its ability to absorb nourishment, grow, and propagate itself. To these faculties, the soul of an animal adds sense-perception, and the soul of the higher animals includes also the orectic power of desires that are not mere appetites and instincts that are more than mere reflexes — a soul which in man is called the subconscious mind (Latin anima), and is usually complemented by the conscious mind (Greek nous, Latin animus, mens) which is capable of reason and of common sense, the faculty that correctly synthesizes the perceptions of the five senses, memory, and reason. When a living organism, whether tree or emperor, dies, its soul vanishes.
Religions which imagine a detachable and perduring soul have given unthinking persons the notion that a human being is like an automobile, which may be abandoned by its driver when he has reached his destination. The analogy is obviously wrong. In an automobile, malfunction of the water pump does not affect the carburator, and vice versa, but a human being is an interaction of many organs, and even ordinary medical practice traces aetiologies such, for example, as this: a disease of the eyes, produced by diabetes, caused by malfunction of the pancreas, which was affected by the liver, which was inflamed by alcoholism, which was caused by a desire to escape from reality.
The dianoetic faculty in the psyche of many human beings makes it a relatively complex force that coordinates the functioning of the various organs and the components of those organs. Much of its activity is still obscure, as witness the phenomenon of drastic physiological changes induced by intense emotions. This phenomenon may occur in the few genuine instances of “faith healing,” although most of the instances that are supposedly produced by “faith healers” are induced hallucinations or plain fraud. (3)
(3. On this racket of big-time Jesus-hucksters, see the admirable investigation by James Randi, The Faith Healers (Buffalo, Prometheus Books, 1987).)
Such operations of the psyche call for research, and if Mr. Mitchell’s Institute is to sponsor rationally scientific investigation, well and good, but it is hard to see how that could supply enough copy for a (monthly?) magazine, a (monthly?) Bulletin, and additional hoop-la.
As one reads further in the prospectus, one begins to suspect that Mr. Mitchell did not recover from the emotional reaction that supervened when he had some assurance he would return safely to earth, and that when he says the planet and life on it are not “mere accidents,” he is thinking of a creation, probably by Brahman, the hero of the most reasonable of the many creation-myths, or the Adibuddha, for whom there is something to be said, or possibly even by less attractive and more bizarre super-spooks.
And the sales-pitch sounds more and more like “New Age” hokum. Members of the Institute will be given an “opportunity to travel to other cultures,” thanks, no doubt, to airlines that need passengers, and, what’s more, they are going to “support [with cash?] a vision of personal and global transformation.” Do you detect a whiff of miasma from the “One World” swamp?
As I dropped the prospectus on an overflowing waste-basket, I reflected that when Mr. Mitchell was safely back on the earth and his intense emotion of relief at his escape from imminent danger subsided, he would have done better to remember that he owed his journey to the moon and his safe return therefrom to the genius of two German scientists, Dr. Wernher von Braun and Dr. Arthur Rudolph, who gave to the United States the power to explore the solar system, and who were requited as Americans usually requite men to whom they owe great benefits. They were driven from the country to prove again that there is no action so base that Americans will not eagerly perform it to please Yahweh’s Yids.
Instead of trying to compete in the “New Age” business, which should be left to third-rate actresses only a little overage, Mr. Mitchell would have done better to show some gratitude to men to whom he owed his life, and to promote a “new world view” based on simple honesty, which is much rarer, as well as more valuable, than stale gabble about “spiritual approaches.”
Even if he felt no gratitude to Drs. Von Braun and Rudolph, he should have perceived that “healing the planet” is mere moonshine, unless we have first succeeded in healing our race, now in the terminal stage of psychic sarcoma.
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